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Closing Of Stillwater's Air Traffic Control Tower Poses Safety Concerns

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Stillwater Airport's air traffic control tower. Stillwater Airport's air traffic control tower.
Stillwater Regional Airport Director Gary Johnson. Stillwater Regional Airport Director Gary Johnson.
STILLWATER, Oklahoma -

Airport jobs across the nation are on the chopping block on the heels of sequestration. The FAA announced Friday it is shutting down 149 air traffic control towers, including four in Oklahoma.

Stillwater is the closest airport to lose its tower staff. Lawton, Norman and Wiley Post in Oklahoma City are also among the casualties.

As for Stillwater, the airport there works about 60,000 flights each year.

It has one air traffic control tower and it costs the federal government about $500,000 to operate.

"We've got five air traffic controllers and, of course, they all have families and they're very concerned about the loss of their job," said Stillwater Regional Airport Director Gary Johnson.

3/22/2013 Related Story: FAA: Four Oklahoma Airport Control Towers Closing In April

Even without an air traffic controller, the airport will stay open, but Johnson said closing the tower opens up serious safety concerns.

"When you remove that, you add more risk in flying in and out of the airports that do not have that," Johnson said.

The airport's bottom line will also take a hit. Johnson said, without an air traffic controller, the airport will lose business that brings in revenue from fuel sales.

"It's possible that some people will avoid coming here during busy times, just because the safety aspect of that," he said.

The university brings in the most business. Football season is the busiest time of year. That's when the airport director said it sees as many as 600 flights a day.

On the busiest days, Johnson said there are hours when aircraft are taking off and landing every 30 seconds. He said coordinating that type of traffic requires a high degree of skill, and without a functioning control tower, the responsibility falls on the pilots.

"Without air traffic control, the pilots will be making broadcasts over the common traffic advisory frequency, trying to figure this out for themselves," Johnson said.

But Johnson said his main concern is with the five people whose jobs are on the line, and finding a way to keep the tower open.

Johnson said the tower could operate under about $300,000 and plans to talk to the city about possibly fitting the cost into its budget.

Deeper FAA cuts could force the tower at Tulsa International to eliminate its midnight shift.

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